Venues Connect with Valley’s Past


Venues Connect with Valley’s Past

Villa de Cortez event coordinator Josie Mendoza in the courtyard of the historic hotel. (VBR)
Villa de Cortez event coordinator Josie Mendoza in the courtyard of
the historic hotel. (VBR)

A handful of event centers in the Rio Grande Valley set themselves apart from the crowd by offering venues steeped in the history and heritage of Deep South Texas. From historic buildings to outdoor settings, these businesses specialize in helping customers plan everything from weddings to corporate gatherings.

The businesses featured here represent a small sampling of venues that reflect the heritage and natural beauty of the Valley.  

Villa de Cortez

A four-story building of Spanish design, this venue first opened in 1928 as the Cortez Hotel with 75 guest rooms as well as barber and beauty shops, a telegraph office and coffee shop. The Weslaco hotel’s ballroom became a popular place for weddings, proms and other special events.

After its celebrated heyday as one of the Valley’s finest hotels the building slowly began to fall into decline and disrepair. In the 1990s owners Patti and Larry Dittburner renovated it from top to bottom to preserve its historic value while bringing electric, plumbing, etc. up to modern standards. Reopening as the Villa de Cortez in 1998, it is home to several businesses and the event venues at 260 South Texas Blvd.

The Villa de Cortez in downtown Weslaco opened in 1998 after extensive renovations. (VBR)
The Villa de Cortez in downtown Weslaco opened in 1998 after extensive renovations. (VBR)

Counting the basement, known today at the Wild Thing Party Room, Villa de Cortez features five floors, with three of them devoted to parties and events. The second-floor ballroom can hold up to 300 guests, while other rooms with names like Casita, Rio Bravo and Bugambilia offer smaller venues for more intimate settings.

Event coordinator Josie Mendoza said Villa de Cortez offers a variety of packages for different events. She and her staff work with clients to design and decorate the venue set up, provide security, a cash bar as well as make recommendations for caterers and other services

Weddings and quinceaneras are the most popular events, but school celebrations and corporate events are also a big part of the venue’s business. “Some of the smaller schools have their galas and proms,” Mendoza said. “Businesses have holiday parties, appreciation dinners, things like that.”

Outdoor venues are available at The Ebony House. (Courtesy)
Outdoor venues are available at The Ebony House. (Courtesy)

The Ebony House

Built in the 1920s as a private home, The Ebony House in Brownsville offers intimate venues with five rooms on the first and second floors of the main house that can accommodate from 18 to 40 people.

The Cottage, a separate building behind the main house, can seat up to 150. The lushly landscaped lawn areas feature The Pergola and a covered patio that can be set up for small to large gatherings. Add it all up and The Ebony House boasts a total of more than 4,000 square feet of event space.   

Prices are customized, depending on the venue and what services customers want the staff to handle. “I can do the whole event for you,” said event coordinator Louise Ara. “Some people don’t want to worry about the details. They just want to show up and enjoy the day.”

In addition to weddings, anniversaries and birthdays, The Ebony House, located on the corner of Los Ebanos Boulevard and Russell Street, has hosted events like book signings and a violin debut.

Dinner can be served among the citrus trees at The Grove. (Courtesy)
Dinner can be served among the citrus trees at The Grove. (Courtesy)

The Grove

Located in far north Edinburg, The Grove Wedding and Event Venue is primarily an outdoor venue nestled in the middle of a citrus grove, and is still a working farm. Owners Amanda and Eric Saenz began operating as an event venue in March of this year.

The original farm house is furnished with antiques and a small bar area, but the main attraction of The Grove is outdoors, where evening events are staged under a brilliant display of stars unfettered by city lights because of the rural location on Rio Grande Care Road north of Monte Cristo Road. “People can come out and enjoy the stars,” Amanda said. “It takes you away from the city vibe and you can connect with nature.”

The Grove handles the basic set up for events, such as tables and chairs for up to 200 guests, linens and china, while recommending caterers and other services to help clients make those decisions. The courtyard offers several options from intimate to larger gatherings. They have even set up weddings and dinners among the citrus trees.

The fifth story of the renovated Reese Hotel in Harlingen is an events venue. (VBR)
The fifth story of the renovated Reese Hotel in Harlingen is an events venue. (VBR)

The Reese

Another renovated hotel with origins dating back to the 1920s, The Reese today houses several businesses, including the popular Colletti’s Italian Restaurant. Located at 202 South First Street in Harlingen, The Reese opened as a hotel in 1925 with 65 rooms.

It’s location near the railroad depot made it a popular choice for travelers and business people during a time the Valley saw rapid growth. It was later used by the Harlingen Housing Authority as housing for senior citizens.

The building was completely renovated and opened in 2011 with Colletti’s as a cornerstone of the new venue. The 5th at the Reese Banquet and Event Venue on the fifth floor is operated by Colletti’s. The venue features full banquet service, two dining rooms, a dance floor with a stage area and a cocktail lounge.

George Cox is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience as a newspaper writer and editor. A Corpus Christi native, he started his career as a reporter for The Brownsville Herald after graduating from Sam Houston State University with a degree in journalism. He later worked on newspapers in Laredo and Corpus Christi as well as northern California. George returned to the Valley in 1996 as editor of The Brownsville Herald and in 2001 moved to Harlingen as editor of the Valley Morning Star. He also held the position of editor and general manager for the Coastal Current, a weekly entertainment magazine with Valleywide distribution. George retired from full-time journalism in 2015 to work as a freelance writer and legal document editor. He continues to live in Harlingen where he and his wife Katherine co-founded Rio Grande Valley Therapy Pets, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness of the benefits of therapy pets and assisting people and their pets to become registered therapy pet teams.